By CRISTINA JANNEY
The number of calls to High Plains Mental Health Center crisis line has doubled in the last month.
Walt Hill, director of HPHM, attributed the increase to isolation and stress as a result of the COVID-19 stat-at-home order.
In February, HPMH had 180 crisis calls after hours. Between March 20 and April 20, that number jumped to 365 calls.
Although the number of calls has increased, the number of calls that have resulted in hospitalization has not jumped proportionally, Hill said.
"It seems that people are more inclined to give us a call when they are experiencing concerns or are upset, and we are glad for this," he said. "They are reaching out, and that is really what our whole goal is."
About half of the crisis calls came from existing clients, and Hill said the other half came from people who High Plains had never had interaction with before.
"I think it is very possible," Kaley Conner, High Plains marketing director, said, "that through this people who do not have a history of a mental illness, like anxiety or depression, might be feeling some of those things because this is such an uncontrollable, stressful situation."
High Plains still accepting clients
Conner, who also teaches mental health first aid classes, wanted to stress High Plains is accepting new clients, and people can call anytime.
The 24/7 crisis number is (800) 432-0333. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be accessed by calling (800) 273-8255 or texting to 741741. The main office number in Hays is (785) 628-2871.
Insurance is accepted. A sliding-fee scale is available.
The Schwaller Crisis Center and pharmacy at High Plains also remain open.
Anyone in northwest Kansas can also access the online mental health tool Seven Cups of Tea at https://www.7cups.com/p/highplains/. Pass code is highplains for new members.
"We are here to help," Conner said.
Therapy sessions, revenue dip at center
Mental health sessions for the center have dropped by 30 percent. Immediately after the stay-at-home order, sessions were down 40 percent to 50 percent, Hill said.
A drop in sessions has resulted in budget issues for the center, Hill said. High Plains has applied to the Payroll Protection Program. It has also dipped into reserves as revenues have decreased.
"Mental health centers across the country are concerned with financial viability," Hill said. "The data I see is a 30 to 50 percent reduction in revenues, which is a major concern.
"I always believe if you focus on the mission and doing it right and taking care of people, we'll work out those details."
High Plains has moved almost all its appointments to telehealth to decrease the likelihood of the spread of COVID-19.
The center has also used telephone contact for therapy sessions for people who do not have the technology for telehealth.
Hill said those who have made the shift to telehealth from home are adjusting well to the switch.
"What I hear is they are very glad for that and very appreciative when we call and say we are not going to have you come in ," Hill said. "We are going to have you connect virtually."
Medication reviews are also being done over the phone or through telehealth.
Plans are in the works to slowly transition back to face-to-face visit, Conner said via email Thursday.
"We at High Plains will continue offering telehealth services beyond the end of the stay-home order, so clients can continue accessing care from the comfort of home for the foreseeable future," she said. "We are in the planning process to safely resume face-to-face care for clients who prefer to be seen in person, and we will announce those details when we are able."
Pandemic aggravates mental health issues
Hill said he thought the pandemic was putting an exclamation point on issues people are normally dealing with in their lives, such as finances and relationships.
"I believe it is a combination of all the uncertainty that we are all facing," he said, "the inability to have the routines as we usually did in our lives, the anxiety of worrying about things like jobs and health care and even getting out to the grocery store."
The stay-at-home order limited people's outlets to deal with these stressors, he said.
Staying mentally healthy still important
Gov. Kelly announced plans Thursday night for reopening the state.
Hill wanted to remind Kansans if they are still required to physically distance, they can still be socially connected. This can be accomplished through videoconferencing apps or by phone.
Keeping routines and structure will continue to be important even as the state eases out of quarantine.
"Helping others is often very helpful to get out of yourself," he said, "and feel some purpose when things don't make sense."
Exercise and talking about feelings with people you trust are also important, Hill said.
"When you talk about your feelings ... when you talk about things you are worried about and what's going on, it really keeps your feelings from taking over because you are able to put things into words.
"As long as we keep things in words, they don't snowball into feelings that are uncomfortable or difficult to deal with. That is how we solve problems, putting words to them and using our minds more than our feelings to deal with what's happening."
Conner said being a good listener can be helpful to friends or family members who are struggling at this time.
If you believe someone is in immediate danger of hurting his or herself or others, call 911, she said.
Hill said he wanted to look at this time as an opportunity.
"We're going to get through this. We're going to come out on the other side of all of this," he said. "I think we are going to come out better. We are going to learn new ways of doing things."